Secret cable: CIA orchestrated Haiti’s 2004 coup

By Jeb Sprague & Kit Klarenburg, The Grayzone, March 1, 2024

A classified diplomatic cable obtained by The Grayzone reveals the role of a veteran CIA officer in violently overthrowing Haiti’s popular President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in 2004. 

spectacular jailbreak in Gonaïves, Haiti in August 2002 saw a bulldozer smash through the local prison walls, allowing armed supporters of Amiot “Cubain” Métayer, a gang leader jailed weeks earlier for harassing Haitian political figures, to overrun the facility. Métayer escaped, as did 158 other prisoners. Among them were perpetrators of the April 1994 Raboteau massacre, which left dozens of Haitians dead and displaced. The victims were supporters of popular anti-imperial President Jean-Bertrand Aristide.

Documents released to The Grayzone under FOIA – no doubt unintentionally – reveal that the jailbreak was part of a complex US intelligence operation, aimed at undermining Aristide’s presidency. At the heart of this operation was Janice L. Elmore, a CIA operative working under cover as a Department of State “Political Officer” in the Port-au-Prince US Embassy at the time.

The breakout set in motion a violent regime change campaign, which ultimately ousted Aristide from office on February 29 2004. After being deposed and flown to South Africa, Aristide claimed to have been “kidnapped” by US forces and directly accused Washington of orchestrating the plot. His nation quickly transformed into a despotic failed state, as ruthless paramilitaries ran roughshod over the population. US Marines and later UN troops were deployed to “keep the peace,” which, in practice, meant violently cracking down on not only armed anti-coup militants but also outraged demonstrators and civilians.

In 2022, the former French ambassador to Haiti admitted that France and the US did, in fact, orchestrate the “coup,” which he acknowledged was “probably” due to Aristide’s repeated demands that Haitians be returned the $21 billion in reparations they’d forcibly paid their former slave masters in Paris since 1825. The former ambassador told the New York Times that with Aristide in exile, “it made our job easier” to undermine Haitians’ demands for a refund.

US officials have repeatedly denied any involvement in Aristide’s overthrow, claiming they only intervened afterwards to restore order. But the secret diplomatic cable obtained by The Grayzone tells a very different story.

Dispatched from the US embassy in Port-au-Prince in September 2002 by then-US Ambassador Brian Dean Curran, the file places Elmore, apparently a veteran CIA operative, in a meeting with disloyal local police officers and coup plotters in Gonaïves the night prior to the jailbreak.

The file reads as confirmation of high-level US government involvement in the 2004 coup in Haiti, and raises profound questions about American involvement in other recent regime change campaigns throughout the hemisphere.

Aristide exiled, supporters massacred

In December 1990, 37-year-old charismatic Catholic priest Jean-Bertrand Aristide was elected by landslide in Haiti’s first-ever democratic presidential election. Swept into office on a platform of democratization and national sovereignty, Aristide sought to enact a form of liberation theology – a Christian philosophy advocating freeing the downtrodden via revolution.

But just seven months after his inauguration, Aristide was marched at gunpoint from Port-au-Prince’s Presidential palace by members of Haiti’s US-trained armed forces, and forced into exile. Over the next three years, the country was ruled by a brutal junta, and thousands were butchered by the army, police, and fascist paramilitaries

This reign of terror reached its zenith on April 22 1994, when military and paramilitary forces attacked the strongly pro-Aristide neighborhood of Raboteau, in Gonaïves. Many residents had been participating in large-scale demonstrations demanding the return of their President ever since his removal. In a savage dawn raid, soldiers went house-to-house, beating and arresting residents, including children, while firing indiscriminately at passersby and those who attempted to flee. When the shooting stopped, at least 30 locals were dead.

Raboteau was far from the only massacre carried out by Haiti’s military junta during Aristide’s exile. But it did produce the very first trial for crimes against humanity in the country’s history. In September 2000, 53 out of 59 defendants were convicted of mass murder for their role in the violence. Among them were the 1991 coup leaders, found guilty in absentia.

As the New York Times reported at the time, “The trial was a landmark for Haiti, a step in bringing to justice an elite tier of military and paramilitary officers and their cohorts for human rights abuses committed during a period of violent military rule after the overthrow of the former president.”

Under mounting public pressure at home and across the Caribbean, Washington committed to returning Aristide’s elected government on October 15 1994. To ensure this, over 20,000 US troops briefly occupied the country alongside a small contingent from CARICOM. The return of the elected government brought an end to the massacres. The Aristide government was finally able to begin reforming the police and disbanding the country’s notoriously repressive army, while launching school construction projects and other programs benefiting the poor.

These projects continued after Aristide’s successor René Préval won the presidency in 1996. Though Préval disappointed many of the popular movement’s supporters after appearing to embrace privatization, it seemed the country would get back on track when Aristide secured nearly 92% of the votes in a landslide election and was returned to office in 2001.

Within months, however, US President George W. Bush imposed crippling sanctions on Haiti, moving to freeze World Bank and IMF loans, while blocking Port-au-Prince from US aid and development assistance. Washington justified the destructive measures by claiming there were irregularities in the election, pointing to figures in the country’s opposition who boycotted the vote. Yet polls showed voters strongly supported Aristide and rejected the boycott.

Undeterred, Aristide’s government quickly set about mobilizing the poor, fostering neighborhood truces, bolstering healthcare and education systems, doubling the minimum wage, and holding accountable paramilitaries and their financiers. The President also re-established diplomatic ties with Cuba, paving the way for the deployment of Cuban medical brigades to Haiti.

Though popular among average Haitians, the programs were seen as a dire political threat by local opposition figures and their backers in Washington. The Bush Administration embraced a development assistance embargo, which successfully pressured most NGOs and other governments to cut off aid. And the National Endowment for Democracy, a US intelligence cutout established to influence elections abroad, began organizing disunited opposition parties into a single umbrella group under the guise of “democracy promotion.”

Soon enough, a violent paramilitary campaign erupted, targeting government infrastructure in Port-au-Prince, before spreading to rural areas which strongly supported Lavalas, the movement associated with Aristide. Amid the tumult, the spectacular jailbreak was carried out in Gonaïves in August 2002, and Métayer was freed alongside dozens of paramilitaries and anti-government gangsters.

 

The smoking gun

Starkly stamped “recommend denial in full,” a previously-undisclosed cable was dispatched from the US embassy in Port-Au-Prince to the desk of Secretary of State Colin Powell on September 18 2002. It records how a “confidante” of Aristide, Pere Duvalcin, had approached the diplomatic mission, and “complained” that a US embassy vehicle was spotted in Gonaïves the night before the jailbreak. According to the cable, the Dominican Republic’s ambassador to Haiti noted Aristide himself had raised this issue, pointing to a US official named Janice Elmore as an orchestrator of the instability.

The cable reveals how immediately prior to the jailbreak, Elmore suddenly informed embassy officials that she had meetings in Cap-Haïtien, “and would return by road.” The officials “cautioned her about traveling in Gonaïves and our ban on travel there.” In response, she said she would merely be “transiting” the area, adding that she would be accompanied by a police escort.

The embassy’s Deputy Chief of Mission, Luis Moreno, made no mention of Elmore stopping or “conducting any business” there, which would be “against embassy procedures.” The official further urged her to “be very careful and exercise good judgment.”

While Elmore apparently never mentioned her activities in Gonaïves subsequently, Aristide’s confidante offered a wealth of sensitive insight. Duvalcin claimed Elmore met with law enforcement officials close to Dany Toussaint, a local political figure who had served in the military, headed Haiti’s interim police force, and was once Aristide’s personal bodyguard. The charismatic and power hungry Toussaint gained a reputation as a political chameleon. As has been documented, he went behind Aristide’s back to coordinate with the US embassy and local power brokers on his own plans to oust the President and assume control of Haiti’s popular movement. 

Hinting at possible friction within the embassy, Ambassador Curran is quoted in the document as insisting, “the [State] Department has designated me as the only person who should talk to Toussaint – and only with specific instructions from Washington.” In comments on Elmore’s meetings in Gonaïves, which appear to indicate she was acting off script, Curran wrote: “Elmore never mentioned that she had been in Gonaïves prior to or after the incident involving [Amiot] Cubain [Métayer].”

At the time, American officials were under explicit orders not to travel to much of Haiti, including Gonaïves. After flouting this directive, Elmore “had other contacts with questionable individuals” in Gonaïves, the Dominican ambassador reportedly told the embassy.

These “questionable individuals” included Hugues Paris, described in the cable as “a Haitian with ties to coup plotters.” He appears to have played a behind-the-scenes role in the jailbreak, and was one of a number of key wealthy backers of a death squad known as the FLRN, which took over part of the country in the lead-up to the February 2004 coup. Years before, Paris was accused of serving as a commercial advisor to Raoul Cedras, the head of the brutal military junta that governed Haiti for three years following Aristide’s overthrow in 1991.

According to the diplomatic cable, the Dominican ambassador said Aristide had mentioned Elmore’s visit to Gonaïves in a discussion. The Haitian president believed Elmore’s activities in the seaside city “were evidence of a covert plan to undermine his regime.”

 

Apparent CIA plotter mobilizes “questionable individuals” in Haiti

From the tone and language employed by the author of the cable, it is clear US diplomats in Haiti were well aware Elmore might be stirring up trouble. But the document offers little evidence they were interested in ascertaining the exact nature of her activities.

Instead, it suggests embassy officials were more concerned with determining whether Elmore’s cover had been blown, and if her phone had been tapped by the Haitian government. According to the document, US diplomats approached a former representative of private security company DynCorp to learn more about intercept capabilities of local security services. Their source confirmed Port-au-Prince was capable of monitoring in-country phone calls, and the embassy believed Haitian authorities were “specifically targeting [Elmore]…considering her to be a rich source of information,” due to “her contacts in the police.”

In this context, Elmore’s contact with elements loyal to Dany Toussaint is particularly striking. The cable reveals that the night before the President departed for Taiwan on diplomatic business, “someone from the embassy had called Toussaint, warning him that Aristide planned to have him arrested while Aristide was out of the country,” according to Aristide’s confidante. The unidentified confidante was reportedly “sent to calm” Toussaint, who “threatened civil war, if any attempt was made” to incarcerate him.

Evidently, Elmore was well acquainted with “questionable individuals” in Haiti who had an interest in Aristide’s downfall, and were later implicated in the February 2004 coup. That she met with them and their allies the night before the Gonaïves jailbreak is close to smoking gun proof of US foreknowledge of that act, and a strong indication the foundations of Aristide’s forced expulsion were being consciously laid well in advance.

A former US embassy staffer in Port-au-Prince who spoke anonymously with The Grayzone described Elmore as stridently “anti-Aristide,” and married to a member of a US special operations force. Elmore also appears to have been well-informed about other aspects of the destabilization campaign targeting the Aristide government.

According to a 2001 Department of State email obtained by The Grayzone, Elmore was looped into sensitive discussions about the US economic war on Haiti. State Department apparatchiks coordinated with an Inter American Development Bank official as they sought to counter claims made by Haiti’s government over blocking and delay of loans and disbursements. Elmore had a front-row seat to this, demonstrating her quiet influence over Washington’s anti-Aristide’s efforts.

 

Elmore named as player in CIA cocaine conspiracy

Closer inspection of Elmore’s background directly implicates the CIA in the conspiracy. In fact, she was specifically identified as a CIA officer by a DEA agent during a December 1997 Department of Justice probe into the Reagan administration’s clandestine use of cocaine trafficking to covertly finance its dirty war in Nicaragua.

DoJ officials reviewed testimony and documents provided by former DEA special agent Celerino Castillo, who attempted to infiltrate organizations controlling El Salvador’s cocaine trade. He claimed to have uncovered incontrovertible evidence that the CIA operation to supply Nicaragua’s fascist Contras “also smuggled drugs to help finance the war,” but encountered a “wall of resistance” trying to alert his counterparts at the CIA and the US embassy. A superior, he alleged, warned him to “leave it alone.”

Castillo explicitly named Elmore as the CIA operative in El Salvador to whom he reported during this time. She confirmed his timeline when subsequently grilled by the DoJ, but claimed to have merely served as the local embassy “narcotics coordinator.” She also admitted he “briefed her on several occasions concerning drugs in El Salvador, and made general allegations that the Contras were involved in narcotics trafficking.” However, she asserted, “no evidence had been developed to substantiate that rumor.”

Elmore was subsequently interviewed behind closed doors by the House Intelligence Committee about her knowledge of CIA drug trafficking. Her testimony has never been released. At the time, former LAPD narcotics investigator Michael C. Ruppert charged that while in El Salvador, she “routinely met” with “military and political leaders” and “used sexual liaisons to gather intelligence and protect drug operations.” Ruppert described Elmore as a CIA officer operating undercover as a State Department embassy political officer. 

Elmore’s Linkedin profile indicates that in addition to her work as a political officer, she was also employed by the aviation and police development programs of the State Department’s Bureau of International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs. A State Department newsletter from April 1986 shows Elmore was named in a US Senate foreign service nomination. Between 1993 and 1994 she attended the Inter-American Defense College (IADC) in Washington, DC, which has ties to the Organization of American States (OAS). Like other US programs that train police and army officers from across the Western Hemisphere, the school has a history of grooming individuals involved in coups, death squads, and US-sponsored intelligence programs. 

Since retiring in 2006, Elmore’s LinkedIn profile shows she has worked as a consultant as well as Director of Research and Analysis at SOL Worldwide. The firm’s now defunct website explained that its “personnel have worked around the world, supporting US initiatives”. This included a Afghanistan National Police (ANP) Local National Interpreter and Translator Program, and a Bosnian Federal Ministry of the Interior (FMOI) Curriculum Development and English Training. 

The website also describes SOL Worldwide carrying out “Flexible Operational Readiness and Support…for projects ranging from construction and security to logistics, transportation, and life support” giving examples of operations in Dubai, the U.S. Mexican border, El Salvador, Haiti, Sudan, Turkey, and Southern Afghanistan. The website further explains, “various trainings and support services were offered for “multinational corporations supporting operations in Africa, Latin America, and Southwest Asia.”

 

In the wake of coup, mass graves, mass murder, zero accountability

On January 1 2004, the bicentennial celebration of Haiti’s independence was held in Gonaïves, where the country’s independence from France had been declared in 1804. The gathering was attended by Aristide and notable guests such as South Africa’s President Thabo Mbeki, the only foreign head of state to resist a French and US-led boycott of the event.

While large crowds celebrated, police clashed violently with local putschists attempting to wreck the bicentennial gathering. Brian Concannon, executive director of the Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti, was present in Gonaïves that day. He told The Grayzone that the outbreak of violence “was all part of a plan painstakingly constructed for years.”

“The prison break and the violence on January 1 were all deliberate steps toward the eventual coup,” Concannon explained. “The skirmishes weakened the government, scared its supporters, and emboldened the opposition. The police were already stretched thin trying to protect the border against the paramilitary invaders and managing the deliberately provocative protests, which were synchronized. The next step was to stir unrest in Gonaïves, which opened up a third front for the police and forced them to divert resources.”

By mid-February 2004, initial skirmishes between fascist paramilitaries and local authorities had descended into all-out war. Putschists in Gonaïves teamed up with anti-Aristide ex-police and paramilitary figures who descended on the country from the Dominican Republic, where they had been protected for years.

The legitimate government deposed, the US and allies installed a new Prime Minister: Gonaïves-born Gérard Latortue, a former World Bank official living in Boca Raton, Florida at the time. Meanwhile, paramilitaries reigned supreme in the streets of Haiti, murdering and imprisoning anti-coup protesters with impunity. A study published by Lancet Medical Journal found approximately 8,000 people were murdered in the greater Port-au-Prince area in the 22 months following the coup. A University of Miami Human Rights Investigation documented mass murder by police and UN occupation forces, as well as mass graves, cramped prisons, hospitals with no medicine, corpse-strewn streets and maggot-infested morgues.

Haiti’s public administrators, judiciary, and security forces were subsequently purged of any and all officials still loyal to democracy. Mass layoffs and attacks on anti-coup labor unions were commonplace. Dissident journalists faced assassination and arrest, while the government’s L’Union newspaper and Aristide Foundation for Democracy’s Kreyòl language newspaper Diyite were forcibly shuttered. Meanwhile, those responsible for the Raboteau massacre and other paramilitary crimes were shielded from prosecution.

A request for comment by The Grayzone to the Facebook account of Janice Elmore and email address displayed on SOL Worldwide’s now-defunct website have gone unanswered. Elmore was not available at the phone number listed there.

The State Department refused our request for comment, referring us instead to the CIA, which has not responded to an email query.

 

Posted March 7, 2024